Calcified Tissue International

, Volume 56, Issue 5, pp 355–358 | Cite as

Bone density in medieval skeletons

  • I. Ekenman
  • S. A. V. Eriksson
  • J. U. Lindgren
Clinical Investigations


We studied the most complete skeletons found in an excavation from the 14th and 15th century in central Stockholm. One hundred eighty-seven were from men and 156 from women: 241 individuals were estimated to be between 20 and 39 and 102 between 40 and 59 years old at death. We examined the bones radiographically and by dual photon absorptiometry. The bone mineral density (BMD) was similar to the finding in North America and Northern Europe today as was the relationship between men and women. However, there appeared to be a higher diaphyseal bone density in the lower extremities, especially in men. The femur score was higher and the BMD of the femoral and tibial shafts was higher than today. In the upper extremities the diaphyseal bone density was lower. Meema's index, as well as the metacarpal score, was smaller than in individuals in this century and the BMD of the humeral shaft was also lower than seen today. Overall, the metaphyseal bone density was similar to what we now consider normal; i.e., the mean BMD of the femoral neck was 0.96 g/cm2 in men and 0.90 g/cm2 in women and of the distal radius 0.43 and 0.32 g/cm2, respectively. The low diaphyseal density and in the upper extremities may be related to the nutritional status, whereas the greater need for walking and standing in the 14th and 15th century might have led to the high diaphyseal density in the lower extremities. There was no evidence of bone loss after 40 years of age in either sex in our study. The average expected lifespan for an adult individual was less than 50 years and we suggest that the relatively high bone density in the older age group may be due to selection of the most physically fit. The activity pattern, therefore, may be considered the most important determinant for the differences.

Key words

Anthropometry Archeology Bone density Densitometry Osteoporosis 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Krogman WM, Iscan YM (1986) The human skeleton in forensic medicine. Thomas Books, SpringfieldGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bass WM (1987) Human osteology, 3rd ed. Missouri Archeological Society, ColumbiaGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Meema HE, Bunker MD, Meema S (1965) Loss of compact bone due to menopause. Obstet Gynecol 26:333–343Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Barnett E, Nordin BEC (1960) The radiological diagnosis of osteoporosis. Clin Radiol 11:166–174Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Trotter M, Gleser G (1958) A re-evaluation of estimation of stature based on measurements of stature taken during life and of long bones after death. Am J Physiol Anthrop 16:79–123Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Trotter M, Gleser G (1952) Estimation of stature from long bones of American whites and Negroes. Am J Physiol Anthrop 10:463–514Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Holmberg J (1952) The increase in the height of Swedish men and women from the middle of the 19th century up to 1930 and the changes in the height of the individual from the ages 26–70. Acta Med Scand 142(5):367–390Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Smith RW Jr, Walker RR (1964) Femoral expansion in aging women: implications for osteoporosis and fractures. Science 145:156–157Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Nordin BEC, MacGregor J, Smith DA (1966) The incidence of osteoporosis in normal women: its relation to age and the menopause. Q J Med 35:24–38Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Mazess RB, Barden HS (1990) Interrelationships among bone densitometry sites in normal young women. Bone Miner 11: 347–356Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Mazess RB, Barden HS, Drinka PJ, Bauwens SF, Orwoll ES, Bell NH (1990) Influence of age and body weight on spine and femur bone mineral density in U.S. white men. J Bone Miner Res 5:645–652Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Kröger H, Heikkinen J, Laitinen K, Kotaniemi A (1992) Dualenergy x-ray absorptiometry in normal women: a cross-sectional study of 717 Finnish volunteers. Osteoporosis Int 2: 135–140Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Liel Y, Edwards J, Shary J, Spicer K, Gordon L, Bell N (1988) J Clin Endocrinol Metab 66:1247–1250Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Heinonen A, Pekka O, Kannus P, Sievanen H, Manttari A, Vuori I (1993) Bone mineral density of female athletes in different sports. Bone Miner 23:1–14Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Runge H, Fengler F, Franke J, Koall W (1980) Ermittlung des peripheren Knochenmineralgehaltes bei Normalpersonen und Patienten mit verschiedenen Knochenerkrankungen, bestimmt mit Hilfe der Photonenabsorptionstechnik am radius. Radiologe 20:505–514Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Lees B, Molleson T, Arnett TR, Stevenson JC (1993) Differences in proximal femur bone density over two centuries. Lancet 341:673–675Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • I. Ekenman
    • 1
  • S. A. V. Eriksson
    • 1
  • J. U. Lindgren
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Surgery, Karolinska InstituteHuddinge University HospitalHuddingeSweden
  2. 2.Division of Orthopaedic SurgeryCreighton University School of MedicineOmahaUSA

Personalised recommendations